Image of two men kissingHomosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

The Dying Words of
George Skelthorpe


The following is the account by the Ordinary (i.e. Chaplain) of Newgate Prison of the confession and final days of a man who had blackmailed many sodomites. See an account of the raid on a molly house as a result of his evidence. See an account of his trial. Confessions made by men who were certain they were going to be hanged usually contained the truth, as they no longer had anything to hide or deny. It would therefore appear that the two men who accused Skelthorp of stealing from him were probably mollies from whom he had demanded money to keep quiet. However, it should be noted that this kind of blackmail was itself a felony, so he should not be thought of as being unfairly convicted. The other interesting thing about this confession is that it reveals that as early as 1709 there was enough homosexual activity in London for someone to exploit it in this fashion.

Rictor Norton

The ORDINARY of NEWGATE his Account
of the Behaviour, Confession, and Last Speech
of George Skelthorpe,
that was Executed at Tyburn,
on Wednesday the 23d of March, 1709.

At the Sessions held at Justice-Hall in the Old- Baily, on Wednesday the 2d, and Thursday the 3d, and then adjourn'd to Thursday the 10th day of March 1708-9, Seven Persons being found Guilty of Death, received Sentence accordingly. Of these 7, One only is order'd for Execution, and the other Six have obtain'd a gracious Reprieve; which I hope they will take care to improve into further Mercy.

As soon as they were cast for their Lives [i.e formally sentenced to be hanged], I constantly attended them every day: And upon each of the following Solemn Days, viz.

1. Sunday the 6th.
2. Tuesday, the Anniversary of Her Majesty's Accession to the Throne, being the 8th. of this instant March,
3. Ashwednesday the 9th.
4. Sunday the 13th.
5. Sunday the 20th.

I preach'd to them and others then present, both in the Morning and Afternoons, upon these several Texts.

1. Upon Job 14.14. If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come.
2. Upon Psal. 40.16. Let all those that seek Thee, rejoice and be glad in Thee: Let such as love Thy Salvation, say continually, The Lord be magnify'd.
3. Upon Isai. 55, 6 & 7. Seek ye the Lord while He may be found. Call ye upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
4. Upon Luke 24.46 & 47. (Part of the 2d Morning-Lesson). And (Jesus) said unto them, Thus it is written, and this it beloved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the Dead the third Day: And that Repentance and Remission of Sins should be preached in his Name amongst all Nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
5. Upon Prov. 28.13. He that covers his Sins shall not prosper: But whoso confesses and forsakes them, shall have Mercy.

I shall not here (as I usually do in the like Cases) set down the Heads of those Sermons: That would make this Paper of a larger Extent than I intend it. This only I shall observe, That I concluded every one of those ten Set Discourses with such an Extempore Exhortation and Application, as I thought most suitable to the Condemned; whom I visited and pray'd with in the Chapel twice every day, and had sometimes under private Examination. And then it was that I received from George Skelthorp his Confession, as hereafter follows.

This George Skelthorp, the only Person that is now to suffer, was try'd upon two Indictments, and found guilty of both. The first was for assaulting William Hills, upon the QUEEN's High-way (that is in the Streets from the Strand through the New Buildings to Covent-garden) and taking from him 4s. 6d. on the 18th of February last. The other Indictment was for his assaulting James Booker on the 27th of the said Month of February, and taking from him a Gold-Ring, a Muslin Neck-Cloth, and 10s. in Money, in or about the same place, where he had committed the former Robbery. The Account that he gave me, First, of himself; and then of what has a relation to those Facts of which he was accus'd, and for which he was condemn'd, was this:

First, As to himself; He said, he was about 25 years of age, born at St. Edmunds Bury, in the County of Suffolk; That he had been for a time a Domestick Servant in the Families of some Gentlemen, both in the Country and here in Town, and for above these Seven years last past, in the QUEEN's Service, first in Ireland, in the Regiment of Colonel Granfield, in Captain North's Company; and then in Flenders in the same Regiment, and afterwards here in HER MAJESTY's First Regiment of Foot-Guards, in Brigadier Totton's Company: That as he had not had much Education in Matters of Religion, and knew very little of that which is a great Help thereto (viz. Reading) but what he had of himself pickt up of late; so he was easily induced to a Loose Life of Drinking, Whoring, and Breaking the Sabbath-day, and totally neglecting the Service of God. All which heinous and crying Sins were now very grievous to him, and lay very heavy upon his Conscience.

Secondly, As to what concern'd the Facts for which he was to die; he deny'd his being guilty of them, or of any Crime that should have brought him before any Justice; but this only, That he knowing the time when, and the places where some Sodomites were resorting about Covent-Garden, he went to stand in their Way, and when any of them would (as they often did) carry him to a By-place thereabouts to commit their foul Acts with him, he went with them; and then he taking hold of them, threaten'd them, that he would presently bring them before a Justice, unles they gave him Satisfaction. By which means (he said) he got a great deal of Money at several times, of such Persons; who rather than suffer themselves to be exposed (some of them being Men of good appearance) gave him either Money, Rings, or Watches, or what else they had then about them. Which he would fain perswade me was the only thing that had brought this Prosecution upon him; acknowledging at the same time, that it was just with God thus to punish him, for having concealed and conniv'd at those foul Acts, which he easily might have discover'd and brought to Justice, as he ought to have done. But the Love of filthy Lucre had kept him from it; though it had not as yet (but he could not tell whether if he had gone on in that Trade, it would not at last have) brought him to yield to their lewd and foul Practices. This is the Substance of what he said; adding only as to this Matter, That there was a certain publick House about Covent-Garden, where he knew those Sodomites us'd frequently to meet, and had seen some of them there several times, And it now repented him, that he had not made a Discovery of them, as he often had fair opportunities for it.

He seem'd all along, from the time of his Trial to that of his Death, to be very willing both to learn and practice those Religious Duties, which (by his own Confession) he had too much neglected before. He desired both my Instructions and Prayers, which he had, and I hope were not bestow'd in vain. But God knows the Heart of Man. He was very attentive to the Word of God, when read and expounded to him; and I could not observe any thing in his Behaviour, but what was becoming a Man under his sad Circumstances. He pray'd very earnestly to God for the Pardon of his Sins; and declar'd, that he forgave all his Enemies, and dy'd in Charity with all Men.

When he was carry'd this Day from Newgate in a Cart to the Place of Execution, I met him there, and discharged, for the last time, my Ministerial Office to him. I exhorted him more and more to repent and clear his conscience before he dy'd. To which he return'd this answer, That he repented with all his heart of all the Sins that he ever had committed, and trusted in God for Mercy, through the Merits of Jesus Christ. And here he further declar'd, That what he had told me before was true; and, That his Guilt was no other than he had then confess'd to me.

After this I pray'd and sung some Penitential Psalms with him: I made him rehearse the Articles of our Christian Faith: And then he said, That by the Grace of God he would die in that Faith, and hop'd for Eternal Life and Salvation.

Then he spoke to the People to this effect, That he had serv'd the QUEEN seven Years, and been in five Campaigns; That he had been a wild Young-man, and would be rambling abroad instead of going to Church: That tho' he was not guilty of those Robberies for which he was now to suffer, (that is to say, just in the manner as they were sworn agaisnt him) yet as he had greatly offended God, so God had justly brought him to this his Shameful and Untimely End. This he acknowledg'd. Now there being (it seems) one of the Witnesses that had sworn against him, close by the Cart, he was entring upon a Discourse with him in his own Justification of the Facts he was charg'd withal; but upon my telling him, That this was not a proper Time and Place to reflect upon any body but himself; and, That he should consider the few minutes he had now to live in this World, and think on that Great GOD, before whose Tribunal he just going to appear, &c. he presently return'd to his Prayers, That God would be pleas'd to forgive him a great Sinner. He desir'd all Young Men, and others, to take Warning by him, and avoid his Sins, that they might not come to the like Condemnation. Sometimes he would express some uneasiness for his now having had the same Mercy shewn him as the other six Persons that receiv'd Sentence with him: But being made sensible, that his Crimes appear'd greater than theirs, he seeme'd to be more satisfied, and acquiesce in the Justice of his Condemnation. He solemnly (and that more than twice) declar'd here, That he died in Charity with all the World, and freely forgave all those that had done him any Injury, as he desir'd to have Forgiveness at God's Hand.

This being done, I retired; and after some further time allow'd him for his private Devotions, the Cart drew away, and he was turn'd off; all the while calling upon God in these and the like Ejaculations, Lord JESUS have mercy upon me! Lord receive my Soul, &c.

This is all the Account here to be given of this Dying Person, by

PAUL LORRAIN, Ordinary of Newgate.
March 23. 1708/9

London Printed, and are to be Sold by Benj. Bragg, at the Raven in Pater-noster-Row.

SOURCE: Paul Lorrain, The Ordinary of Newgate his Account of ... George Skelthorpe, London, 1709 (a one-page broadsheet).
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Dying Words of George Skelthorpe, 1709," Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 4 January 2001, updated 14 February 2010 <>.

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